What should I expect from my Human Resources Department?

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What should I expect from my Human Resources Department?

This question has challenged Human Resource professionals and Operating management since the days of the “Personnel” department and probably long before that. It has challenged HR professionals for several reasons, but probably the biggest reason is because the HR community in many cases has not created the dialogue with Operating management that specifically addresses the question.

For example, as an operating manager, how many times has your HR representative asked to have a conversation with you about your specific expectations for HR or asked how you would define this rather amorphous term, “HR”? In order to create alignment between HR and Operations, there has to be a common understanding of what those expectations are. All too often that conversation doesn’t take place. Why? Here’s a starter list:

Too busy.
We already know all that.
Too busy.
Expectations might be higher that HR can deliver.
Too busy.
Never thought to do it.

I think you get the picture.

Let’s look at the same question from the operating side. Certainly those of you in operations can clearly articulate your expectations, but DO YOU? Do you have the forum? Do you take the time to create the forum? Would it be worth the time? Have you ever been to a course that taught HR 101? Probably not, but I’d bet that you have a pretty good understanding of what roles Finance, IT, Engineering, Law, Manufacturing, Marketing, and Sales play in your organization whether you have been to a course or not, and probably that understanding would be in close alignment with those functional peers.

My experience has been, and my guess would be, that it is not the case regarding your HR Department, and perhaps more importantly, it probably would not be in alignment with the role your HR department sees for itself. The results? There could be several–Most likely results would be unmet expectations and therefore disappointment. More importantly, the loss of the opportunity to create a significant competitive advantage in the marketplace through better utilization of your people and organizational capabilities could be the most significant result.

So, what should be the role of HR in your company and how can you maximize this function called “HR”? David Ulrich, Professor in the School of Business at the University of Michigan, identifies four major areas in which HR should be making a significant contribution to your business:

Administrative Efficiency
Strategy Development and Execution
Employee Contribution
Capacity for Change
He focuses his attention and emphasis less on what HR professionals “do” and more on what they “deliver”. He believes that shifting the focus from do-ables to deliverables challenges the traditional beliefs and assumptions about HR and creates a more significant and meaningful dialogue between HR and Operating management, therefore raising the bar regarding expectations for HR*. By doing that, it naturally raises the bar for the contribution HR can and should make to the business. I think he has it right.

A few words about the four major areas:

Administrative efficiency is the classic HR tactical day-to-day blocking and tackling. Activities like benefits administration, newsletter preparation, salary administration, policy interpretation, Affirmative Action plan development and implementation, staffing, report preparation (and payroll, if appropriate), represent a tactical, but very important deliverable of the HR function. It must be done well for HR to have initial credibility, but it doesn’t create a strategic advantage in the marketplace.

Strategy Development and Execution
This is clearly the strategic aspect of the Human Resources role. In this role the HR department aligns its organization, competencies, strategies, and practices with the business strategy. HR has no strategy that is not connected in some way with the overall business strategy. Execution is the key here. Without it, all the rest is simply a good intention. With it, HR becomes a key strategic partner. The primary actions of the “strategic” HR leader translate business strategies into HR priorities.

Employee Contribution
This is partially the classic HR role of employee advocate, but it is more if you look just beyond the obvious. A skilled HR professional can use this effectively to positively impact employee attraction and retention. The deliverable here can be increased employee contribution (read productivity), commitment, and competence. The HR challenge in this category is to pro-actively develop and sponsor forums to advocate for employee involvement, bottoms up communication programs, employee training and development opportunities, employee engagement, and in general creating an employee friendly environment offering benefits and services that fosters a culture which makes employees feel valued and involved.

The fourth key role in which HR can provide a marketplace advantage is in the area of managing transformation and change. Transformation involves fundamental cultural change within the firm. As change agents, HR leaders serve as business partners by helping employees and managers let go of the old and adapt to a new culture. HR leaders in this capacity create and implement a process of managing change. Specific activities in this arena include identification and framing of challenges and problems, building relationships of trust with operating management, solving problems, offering creative solutions, creating processes for brainstorming ideas, competently facilitating strategy development meetings, and fulfilling action plans. Effective HR leaders build commitment to change and create the capacity within an organization to support and embrace change.

In summary, the role of Human Resources today requires the HR leader to wear multiple hats and demonstrate that they have access to a variety of tools and competencies that are relevant to supporting business goals and objectives, and they must be able to deliver results that are relevant and contribute to the bottom line.

Is that what your HR department is providing to you? If not, it’s time to initiate the discussion of the role, and clarify expectations. The HR function can be a powerful tool in creating a competitive advantage in the marketplace. It’s up to you, to maximize the value.

**Dave Ulrich, Human Resource Champions, Harvard Business Review, Copyright 1997.

Larry Kludt is a Senior Human Resource executive with 20+ years of experience with major international firms in a variety of business segments, as well as entrepreneurial companies of small to medium size. Larry is on Rosen Consulting’s “Dream Team” and is available to discuss more about the leverage you should be receiving from your Human Resources department and offers a unique audit process which will help you understand the strengths, development needs and expectations of your HR department. He can be reached at larry.kludt@rosengroup.comÂ

© 2010, The Rosen Group Newsletter. Reprinted with permission by The Rosen Group, specializing in Human Resources Solutions and HR Staffing.